Notes and Editorial Reviews
GREAT BAROQUE MASTERPIECES (10-CD Box Set)
Baroque music describes the period in Western classical music dating from approximately 1600 to 1750. The Baroque period saw the development of functional tonality, as well as new instrumental playing techniques and musical notation. It was during this time that opera was established as a musical genre, and the period also saw the expansion of the range and complexity of instrumental performance.
This collection concentrates on the instrumental music of the period. No survey of the Baroque would be complete without the music of JS Bach, whose Brandenburg concertos are commonly regarded as the apex of Baroque music. The radiant concertos of Vivaldi demonstrate the exhilarating range of instrumental colour that flourished at this time and contrast with the orchestral zest of Handel’s robust Water Music. From classical favourites such Pachelbel’s Canon and Albinoni’s Adagio, to Concerti Grossi from composers as diverse as Corelli, Handel, Locatelli and Geminiani, this set is the perfect compilation of works from this most fascinating of eras.
Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set:
Bach: Orchestral Suites
"After his hypersonic and occasionally reckless Brandenburgs, Helmut Müller-Brühl gets the tempos and balances right for the four Orchestral Suites. Technically solid and buoyant in spirit, the performances really take off, largely due to an approach that allows the character of each dance to set the tone for each movement. Although we're hearing (mostly) modern instruments (there are natural trumpets and what sounds like a Baroque flute), the playing style is centered in currently accepted conventions of Baroque performance practice, including clean, distinctly articulated bowing, a bright, lean string sound, and limited vibrato. Happily, Müller-Brühl doesn't indulge in distracting double-dotted French overture fussiness or similar affectations that some conductors find irresistible. Instead, we get fine, straightforward performances with plenty of energy and verve--no quirky ornaments or extreme tempos. And, speaking of tempos, the famous "Air" from Suite No. 3 is perfectly paced, its interpretive manner gentle and confident without Romantic pretension. The following gavotte movement, which often is run over in a mad rush by conductors and players over-eager to show off, here is given air and space enough for us to feel it as a legitimate dance. Karl Kaiser's virtuosic flute solo ("Badinerie") is on par with the finest recorded versions"
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Handel: Water Music, Royal Fireworks Music
These works are so familiar--and so frequently successfully recorded--that a reviewer can almost admire the record buyer who already owns one or two versions (say, one on modern instruments and another on period) and doesn't have to sit and analyze another. Decisions, decisions: Gardiner (Philips) is just about ideal on period instruments, but Norrington (Virgin), also on period instruments, has more personality and offers some surprises from the brass. Charles Mackerras (Telarc), with modern instruments, is brightly colored. But enough about them.
Both works were composed for outdoor events--heaven knows what they sounded like. The Water Music (1715, 1717) was used to entertain royalty floating up and down the Thames; some of it may have been played indoors with supper. The Royal Fireworks Music dates from 1749 and was to be performed in Green Park to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle; the rehearsal, a week earlier, was attended by 12,000 people. At the performance itself, the fireworks were unimpressive, but one of the pavilions caught fire. Talk about excitement.
Kevin Mallon leads a Toronto-based, 34-person group of period instrumentalists called the Aradia Ensemble on this new, bargain issue, and it's a terrific, ear-opening show. The music is, above all, joyful, with dance movements galore and plenty of giddy pomp. Mallon has rethought the tempos, almost all of which, he feels, should be quicker than we're accustomed to hearing. If you listen to the Air, the fourth movement to Suite No. 1, you'll be surprised at how good it sounds played without the usual serious "aura" that drags it down. Mallon writes in the accompanying notes that he looked at an 18th-century score for the piece and discovered it was marked "presto".
These quick tempos work most of the time, and if, for example, you overlook the fact that the alla hornpipe of the Water Music Suite No. 2 and the Rigaudon of No. 3 could only have been danced by a dancer on speed, and just listen to how effortlessly entertaining the music is, you'll love it. Mallon is not rigid in his fleetness, however: the final movement of Suite No. 1 is relaxed, and he slows it down even further for its last few seconds, giving it the stature it requires.
Mallon also adds side-drum and tambourines to a couple of the movements, and they add jollity and jauntiness; only a whiner would object. There's a thin line in this music between too ostentatious and too mild, and by keeping his forces slim and his tempos original and suited to the music, he avoids being either. When the trumpets and horns ring out they don't blare, and in La Paix from the Royal Fireworks Music, when Mallon uses transverse flutes (as suggested in the original manuscript), the effect is magical rather than just mellow. Listen to the overture of the Royal Fireworks, brass blasting, drums being banged with wooden-headed sticks, all at a military tempo that implies forward propulsion rather than combative stodginess.
If I have one criticism of the performances, it's similar to how I feel about the same conductor's recent recording of Rinaldo: the strings tend to attack softly, and I prefer more snap. Maybe I'm looking for trouble, but those slashing attacks tend to make you sit up and listen even more attentively. But these performances are wonderfully peppery nonetheless, and Naxos' absolutely natural recording captures every sound and balances the instruments ideally. This is both a bargain and a terrific reading. Highly recommended, and right to the top of the list.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com [3/7/2006]